PODCAzT 14: St. Augustine on the Lord’s Passion

Today’s Office of Readings has an excerpt of a sermon by St. Augustine of Hippo (+430 – s. Guelf. 3 otherwise called s. 218C) preached in 412 about the Lord’s Passion.  I give you the whole sermon, since it is short.  Also,

If you are paying attention, you might hear Augustine refer to the "wonderful bargain" (mirum commercium) and a "mutual give and take" (mutua participatio). 

The mighty The Lewis & Short Latin Dictionary, says that commercium means “trade, traffic, commerce” but also “intercourse, communication, correspondence, fellowship.”  Every student of Latin knows that epistolarum commercium is an exchange of letters, correspondence back and forth.  Perhaps you will recall the phrase O admirabile commercium – “O wonderous exchange!”, the famous antiphon of Vespers and Lauds of the octave day of Christmas which has been set to glorious sacred music by composers of every age.  And of course, Christmas celebrates the Incarnation which is at the heart of the sermon from Augustine I read in the PODCAzT.

Commercium has many levels of meaning.  In the Old Testament it could be a reference to the way in which man entered with God into a covenant, a contract and exchange (though between unequal partners).  Our new covenant with God is a commercium, the mysterious participation of the divine Second Person of the Trinity in our humanity, the way that the Son of God became the Son of Man so that we might be made the sons of God.  This is like a mutua participatio, the phrase Augustine uses in the sermon.

There is also a strong juridical/legal overtone to the word commercium.  Ancient Romans classified people in roughly three different categories, cives (citizens), latini (those closely tied to Rome but without full status), and peregrini (foreign residents)A civis had the rights, among other things, of connubium et commercium, the right to contract legal marriage and to conduct business and commerce (Latini had commercium and the peregrini had neither).  This also included inheritance rights.  Eventually in the dissolution of the Republic into the Empire these were the only truly valuable rights in the civitas (the body-politic, the body of the citizens united in a community including all the integrated cities, etc. – think of St. Augustine’s City of God…De civitate Dei).   

The words mirum commercium and mutua participatio are loaded with layers. 

Here is the part of the Latin text, the part in the breviary:

Passio Domini et salvatoris nostri Iesu Christi fiducia gloriae est, et doctrina patientiae.
Quid enim non sibi de Dei gratia promittant corda fidelium, pro quibus Dei Filius unicus et Patri coaeternus parum fuit ut homo ex homine nasceretur, nisi etiam manibus hominum, quos creavit, moreretur ipse ab eis?
Magnum est quod futurum a Domino promittitur nobis sed multo est maius quod recolimus iam factum esse pro nobis. Ubi erant aut quid erant, quando pro impiis mortuus est Christus? Quis dubitet eum donaturum sanctis vitam suam, qui eisdem donavit adhuc mortem suam? Quid cunctatur humana fragilitas credere futurum esse, ut vivant homines aliquando cum Deo?
Multo incredibilius iam factum est, quod mortuus est propter homines Deus.
Quis enim est Christus, nisi illud quod in principio erat Verbum, et Verbum erat apud Deum, et Deus erat Verbum? Hoc Verbum Dei caro factum est, et habitavit in nobis: Non enim habebat in semetipso unde moreretur pro nobis, nisi mortalem carnem sumpsisset ex nobis. Sic immortalis mori potuit, sic vitam donare mortalibus voluit: particepes sui postea facturus, quorum esset prior particeps factus. Nam nec unde viveremus nos habebamus de nostro, nec unde moreretur ille de suo.
Mirum proinde nobiscum egit mutua participatione commercium: nostrum erat, unde mortuus est; illius erit, unde vivamus.
Non solum ergo erubescere non debemus de morte Domini Dei nostri, verum etiam maxime in ea fidere maximeque gloriari: suscipiendo quippe a nobis mortem, quam invenit in nobis, fidelissime spopondit nobis in se vitam daturum, quam habere non possumus ex nobis.
Nam qui tantum nos dilexit, ut, quod peccato meruimus, sine peccato pro peccatoribus pateretur, quomodo nobis non dabit quod iustitia, qui iustificat? Quomodo non reddet, qui pollicetur in veritate, praemia sanctorum, qui sine iniquitate poenam pertulit iniquorum?
Confiteamur itaque, fratres, intrepidi, vel etiam profiteamur Christum pro nobis esse crucifixum: non paventes sed gaudentes, non verecundantes sed gloriantes dicamus.
Vidit hunc apostolus Paulus, et commendavit titulum gloriae. Qui cum haberet multa magna atque divina, quae de Christo commemoraret, non dixit gloriari se in mirabilibus Christi, quia, cum esset apud Patrem Deus, mundum creavit, cum esset etiam quod nos homo, mundo imperavit; sed: Mihi autem, inquit, absit gloriari, nisi in cruce Domini nostri Iesu Christi.

About Fr. John Zuhlsdorf

Fr. Z is the guy who runs this blog. o{]:¬)
This entry was posted in Patristiblogging, PODCAzT, SESSIUNCULA. Bookmark the permalink.


  1. Patrick says:

    Kadosh, Kadosh, Kadosh…from Isaiah to your Podcast Thank yo..

  2. Craigmaddie says:

    Your comments about making the Sign of the Cross are very timely for me as I have been making an effort to say grace before I eat anything. However, when I am in a restaurant I do find myself making a very weak, timid Sign of the Cross. This is perhaps something I need to reflect on…

Comments are closed.